Exposing PseudoAstronomy

August 23, 2016

Yeah … So, About NASA Saying All Research Funded By It Will Be Online, Free …


Intro

This story has been making the round quite a bit over the last five days. You can find it on various news sites, but here’s the actual press release: NASA Unveils New Public Web Portal for Research Results

Seems great, right? All federally funded research results will be made available for free. As I think it should be. The problem is that this press release is not only short on details, it lacks any and all details for those of us who carry out that research. Before getting to what I mean here, I need to give you five pieces of background information.

Background

1) I, personally, am an outlier in my field where I believe that not only the results, but the raw data that most people normally would not release should be made available to anyone who asks. I’ve posted about this before on this blog. I also have a very strong track record of doing so, so I don’t just “talk the talk” on this issue. So, as you read this, don’t think that I’m against the new policy.

2) As of 2013, the US Executive Branch’s OMB (Office of Management and Budget) directed all federal agencies to make the research they fund publicly accessible, for free. As in, the public has already paid for it once, they shouldn’t have to pay for it twice. So any policy like this is not just magnanimous of a particular federal agency, it’s been mandated by the Office of the President.

3) As of 2015, NASA started to comply with this in terms of data gathered, computer code written, and other things that researchers do to get the results that they publish. All of that stuff has to be released. And you have to detail how this will be done and how you comply with the mandate in what is called a “Data Management Plan” (DMP). In 2016, instead of this being a paragraph on the cover sheet of your proposal, it’s now a 2-page requirement except for some specific programs. I just applied to one and here’s my DMP so you can see what it’s like:

After the database is complete and validated, it will be released to the community in six formats on four distribution sites: (1) The PDS’s Imaging and Cartography Node in PDS4 format; (2) Lunaserv as a layer file which will make it available to any WMS-enabled software (e.g., JMARS, ArcGIS); (3) JMoon/JMARS in their own layer file format; (4) and on the PI’s own established website (http://craters.sjrdesign.net) as a searchable form and in PDS4, CSV ASCII, and GIS shapefile. Finally, there will be one peer-reviewed publication “announcing” the database, describing what it contains, and how it was built for referencing and to further publicize the database. Letters of support for the first three are included in this proposal.

These fit the PDART requirement for archiving independence, sustainability, open availability, searchability, citability, standards-compliant for the sub-field (preeminence), and standard format (standardization), for we are including the default PDS as our primary distribution. The additional venues and formats increase the availability to the community. Because the only code we will use are generic algorithms not developed under PDART, the code will not be archived (verified with PDART program officer, Sarah Noble, June 27, 2016), but it will be described in our publication.

4) NASA is already one of the most open federal agencies about their data. All spacecraft data is made available, for free, PDS. It might be a bit difficult to navigate, but there is literally terabytes of data there, all for free, for you to download and work with. I rely on it for most of my research.

5) Other fields and federal agencies already do what the latest NASA press release says, and it’s been in place for a long time. The issue in part is that journals we publish in have monopolies on the field, and they charge us to publish and then you to read. Win-win for them. The NIH (National Institutes of Health) have a policy that all research papers have to be made available, for free, to the public, through “PubMed,” but they let the journals have a one-year proprietary period.

Implementation?

With that all said and out of the way, what the heck does this latest press release mean?! The scientists (like me) have not had any clarification or any information about this. Does this mean NASA has worked out a deal (like the NIH has) with journals? Do I need to remember 1+ year after publication to submit to NASA’s website for this, or will it be done automatically? Does this only apply to new grants (since it’s not in my contract with NASA to do it for ones that I already have funded)? Will it apply retroactively? What about past research that’s been published for decades? Does this require the “Open Access” publication option for journals, which can cost upwards of $3000 that I need to include in my budgets?

And, why does NASA’s portal for this go through the NIH?!?! (the website they link to for this is https://www.nihms.nih.gov/db/sub.cgi)

And those are just the questions I thought of within a few minutes of reading the press release.

So, let me repeat, so that there is no ambiguity here: I’m all for this. I don’t like that the journals have a monopoly and it’s pay to publish and pay to read and legally I can’t even give you a PDF copy of the paper I wrote but published with them. I also think that all the data we generate should be made public, and the public should have access to the results.

But, this is like a … scratch that, it pretty much IS a mandate by press release with no information on to what it applies, to whom it applies, nor how it applies. Until then, that’s really all this is: A press release.

August 18, 2016

Has Yahoo! Finally Hit Rock Bottom, with Horoscopes in its Science Feed?


Jerry Coyne reports today that Yahoo!’s science news feed is reporting on astrology. Not that it’s Taurus excrement, but an article with the headline, “Tonight’s full moon and upcoming lunar eclipse are going to bring about some CHANGE” is full of astrological bull crap.

Not only that, but the picture they use is of an annular solar eclipse. Notice that a “solar eclipse” does not equal a “lunar eclipse.” An annular solar eclipse is when the moon is near apogee (farthest point from Earth) so it appears smaller than the sun’s disk and therefore cannot completely cover it, leaving a ring of solar illumination around it.

Not only that, but the “eclipse” this month is not a lunar eclipse at all, and the one next month is a penumbral eclipse — unless you have a camera and are very carefully looking at the brightness, you will not notice any change.

Fortunately, the vast majority of the 250+ comments (as of the time of this writing) take Yahoo! to task over this.

Though I will let an astrologer have the last word. To the currently highest-rated comment, by “Tia” with 104 up-votes and two down-votes, and 15 replies, “gypsyshookar” (which I originally read as “gypsyhooker”) wrote:

“While I agree with you, as a very experienced and certified astrologer, we have it on our own authority that this qualifies astrologically as an eclipse with eclipse effects. However, it is NOT astronomy which focuses mainly on the observable physical phenomena of rocks in space. Astrology, on the other hand, is based on the observable correlation of life and events on Earth with the placement of the planets. FYI, astronomy is based on the earlier astrology and not the other way around. And before you pooh-pooh astrology, I suggest you take a course in it from an accredited astrologer such as myself, whose name is followed by something like BA,MCL, or better yet PhD. When scorned by a colleague for his belief in astrology, Sir Isaac Newton replied: “I have studied it, Sir. You have NOT.””

August 4, 2016

Face on Mars, Face on Hawaii – Pareidolia is Real, Get Over It


News this week that hasn’t been political has included information about Hawaii’s volcanoes finally spilling lava into the ocean again, for the first time in several years. And, a video of one of the calderas has been making the rounds, uploaded to Vimeo and shot by Mick Kalber.

Volcano in Hawaii, USA, Showing a Smiling Paredolia (Mick Kalber)

Volcano in Hawaii, USA, Showing a Smiling Paredolia (Mick Kalber)

One of the main ways this has become viral is pareidolia at work, with headlines such as “Hawaiian Volcano Smiles at Photographer” and such other whimsical things.

Obviously, the volcano, caldera, and lava are not smiling. It’s the human brain trying to make a familiar pattern out of randomness. Which it very happily does. Visually, it’s generic pareidolia. If it were audio noise and you thought you heard something (the ghost hunter’s infamous “EVP” or Electronic Voice Phenomenon), that would be audio pareidolia.

Everyone does it. And yet, there are still some noted pseudoscientists have consistently refused to believe that it’s real. After all, almost their entire repertoire of claims would be blasted away if they admitted that a bit of the right shade here and a bit of the right shade there and something random will appear to be something familiar.

The phenomenon of pareidolia is real. Get over it.

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